Library talks in Pasco still keep public in the dark

We still don't understand the veil of secrecy surrounding negotiations between the city of Pasco and the Mid-Columbia Library District.

We've read the library district's response to our April 30 editorial, calling for greater transparency in the negotiating process.

The rebuttal is posted on the district's website. Read it yourself at tinyurl.com/MCLResponse. Maybe you'll find it more convincing than we did.

The basic argument that Kyle Cox, the district's administrative services director, lays out is that library board members discussed the Pasco contract talks in open meetings.

Agendas and notifications were provided to the media, as required by state law, he says.If the Herald didn't send a reporter to cover any of the sessions, it's not the library district's problem.

It's a pretty good shot at deflecting blame.

Cox even lectures us a bit on newsroom practices. "As a journalism instructor once told me, 'To get the scoop, you've got to show up.' "

But as much as we appreciate the good professor encouraging journalism students to cover events firsthand, it's impossible to be everywhere news happens.

Sometimes, the best a reporter can do is try to reconstruct events by interviewing witnesses, participants and officials.

What Cox seems to be saying is, "If you can't make the meetings, don't expect us to help you keep the public informed."

Truth be told, we feel pretty awkward getting into a tit-for-tat with the Mid-Columbia Library District. The people there are working hard to enrich the lives of Mid-Columbians. We appreciate their efforts on the community's behalf.

And from what we know about the negotiations for a new contract with Pasco, good things may result. A new branch in west Pasco appears central to the talks, and it's sorely needed.

But we're like a bull taunted with a red cape anytime government agencies conduct the public's business in secret.

And the fact is, negotiations between Pasco and the library continue to be held behind closed doors. The next one is scheduled Monday. You're not invited.

The topic has come up in public meetings, but the participants continue to be less than forthcoming with the details.

In the most recent article, Pasco City Manager Gary Crutchfield told the Herald that he couldn't talk about details of the agreement because the parties had agreed not to discuss them yet.

In other words, they'll tell you whenever they decide they want you to know.

The state's open government laws allow exemptions, of course. Some of them even benefit the public. An often-cited example is a city council that keeps secret the minimum price it wants for surplus property.

But in the absence of a clear public benefit, the public's business ought to be conducted in the open, especially when it involves two public agencies. That's true as a matter of principle, even if a loophole provides a legal way to shut out the public.

What's the public benefit from closing the contract talks between the library district and Pasco?

Disclosing what both sides are already privy to won't give either one an advantage, but it would make the public a full partner in the process.